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The Khazar myth holds that Ashkenazi Jews (i.e., those descended from an Eastern European bloodline) are not ethnically Jewish at all, but descend from the inhabitants of the medieval Turkic Khazar Empire. Myth-makers often harness this idea in attempts to discredit Zionism and/or to explain why the British/Aryans/Blacks/Arabs/insert race here, and not the Jews, are the REAL "chosen people" of the Bible.
The Khazar state
The Khazar state, at various times referred to as the Khazar Khaganate or Khazaria, was a Central Asian polity in the medieval era. Many Jews sought refuge from turmoil in the Persian and Eastern Roman Empires by emigrating to the Khazar region, and by the 10th century CE, it is estimated that there were about thirty thousand Jews living in Khazaria. Around the 8th century CE, the Khazars' ruling class converted to Judaism, and from then on they cultivated relations with diasporic Jewish communities across Europe and Asia until their fall in the 10th century.
The Thirteenth Tribe
The Thirteenth Tribe is a book written in 1976 by Arthur Koestler, claiming that Ashkenazi Jews were descended from Khazar converts to Judaism. The author apparently had the best of intentions, and thought that by establishing Khazar descendance rather than from the Jews of Jesus' time and area, the "Christ-Killer" accusations would end and Antisemitism would disappear.
Many argue that genetic studies on Jewish populations have refuted any claims of significant Khazar lineage, and have shown that most ethnic Jews draw their roots from the Middle East. A genetic study led by Dr. Gil Atzmon found that European Jews were most closely related to Middle-Eastern Jews, Palestinians, Druze, and non-Jewish Southern Europeans — evidence inconsistent with Khazar/Slavic hypotheses. Another genetic study led by Doron Behar found that, despite admixture from local populations, autosomal genetic samples from the Ashkenazi Jews, Caucasian Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, North African Jews, and Sephardi Jews form a relatively tight genetic cluster which overlaps with Samaritans and Israeli Druze which is strongly indicative of common Levantine ancestry.
This argument has been challenged by one recent genetic study by Johns Hopkins University geneticist Dr. Eran Elhaik. However, Elhaik's study does not fully address the findings of previous studies, particularly the overlap between Ashkenazi Jewish populations and native endogamous Levantine populations such as the Samaritans and Druze. Elhaik's use of Palestinian Arabs as representative of ancestral Israelite genetics is questionable in light of previous genetic studies which have uncovered evidence of significant African gene flow present in Arab, but not non-Arab Middle-Eastern populations. Blogger Razib Khan argues that Elhaik's conclusions rely on poorly reasoned assumptions and that "the Caucasian component that is being detected in this paper may simply be a[n] indigenous Middle Eastern ancestral element which has now been somewhat displaced northward in its modal frequency due to the expansion of the Arabs."
None of these studies of Ashkenazi Jews have detected evidence of a significant Central or East Asian genetic component which is present in other Turkic populations. The actual Khazars would likely have been assimilated by the Krymchaks (Crimean Jews) following the fall of Khazaria. Even so, the Krymchaks had a long history of assimilating other Jews who came to the Crimea, so their ancestry is still largely Levantine.
Why it wouldn't matter anyhow
Though Ashkenazi Jews are the largest ethnic group of Jews today, Sephardim (Jews of Spanish and North African descent) and Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern descent) make up the majority of the Jewish population in Israel. Furthermore, Israel has become the home of many smaller Jewish ethnic groups, such as Ethiopian Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Kaifeng Jews. Since the Khazar myth doesn't address those Jews at all, any use of it to prove that "the Jews" aren't real Jews has significant holes.
Furthermore, Judaism has allowed for voluntary conversion through most of its history. Indeed, the great-grandmother of King David, Ruth, was a Moabite convert. Therefore, even if the Ashkenazi were descendants of Khazar converts, they would still be entirely, legitimately Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law.
Additionally there is the question of gene mixing which would inevitably occur when two populations lived close together. No matter how stringent social or religious constraints might be against either, mixed marriages and extramarital sex are still going to happen. An excellent example of this are African Americans that have a much lighter skin-tone than is common in the West-African home of their ancestors. This is of course due to widespread marital and extramarital mixture with non-black populations in the US, and slaves often didn't have a say in the matter. Thomas Jefferson and his children are just one well-known example of this[note 1] Obama's mother is another good example; it turns out that one of her ancestors happened to be among the first Africans in the colonies and arguably the first slave. And this a result of — at best — four centuries of living side-by-side, not twelve centuries as would be the case with the Khazars.
- In the case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, what often gets left out is that Sally Hemmings was Jefferson's wife's half-sister and was 3/4 white. She was a slave by accident of birth, and her six children with Jefferson were 7/8 white yet born into slavery, highlighting the whole absurdity and cruelty of the practice.
- AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF KHAZARIA, Kevin Alan Brook
- The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage by Arthur Koestler (1976) Random House. ISBN 0394402847.
- Michael Scammell Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic Random House, 2009, p. 546
- Jews: A religious group, people or race? Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
- Atzmon, Gil, Li Hao, Itsik Pe'er, Christopher Velez, Alexander Pearlman, Pier Francesco Palamara, Bernice Morrow, Eitan Friedman, Carole Oddoux, Edward Burns, and Harry Ostrer. 2010. "Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry". The American Journal of Human Genetics, 86: 850–859.
- Behar, Doron M, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Saharon Rosset, Jüri Parik, Siiri Rootsi, Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Ildus Kutuev, Guennady Yudkovsky, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Oleg Balanovsky, Ornella Semino, Luisa Pereira, David Comas, David Gurwitz, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Tudor Parfitt, Michael F. Hammer, Karl Skorecki1, and Richard Villems. 2010. "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people". Nature, 466: 238–242.
- Eran Elhaik (December 14, 2012) "The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses"
- Gene study settles debate over origin of European Jews (Jan 16, 2013) AFP (archived from March 21, 2013).
- Moorjani P, Patterson N, Hirschhorn JN, Keinan A, Hao L, et al. (2011) "The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines, and Jews". http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/...l.pgen.1001373
- Martin Richards, Chiara Rengo, Fulvio Cruciani, Fiona Gratrix, et al. (2003) "Extensive Female-Mediated Gene Flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab Populations" http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1180338/
- Ashkenazi Jews are probably not descended from the Khazars by Razib Khan (August 8, 2012 11:27 pm) Discover.
- "Who Were The Krymchaks?" http://www.family.askinazy.com/WhoWereTheKrymchaks.pdf
- See the Wikipedia article on Family of Barack Obama.